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MICHAEL WEST. Good timing: Australia Post in talks to become a bank

The banks will fight it tooth and nail. Australia Post is considering becoming a bank, a move which could deliver significant competition to the country’s banking oligopoly through lower fees and lower-cost mortgages. Continue reading

Posted in Economy | 1 Comment

JOHN DWYER. Profit trumping professionalism! All too often the case in Australian Pharmacies.

On the third of May, Health Minister Greg Hunt spoke at a conference organised by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. This is the pharmacy owners association (all pharmacists) which in 2011, notoriously, entered into a deal with the vitamin and supplement provider, Blackmores, to have 5000 pharmacies try and sell a Blackmores’ product to clients picking up prescription medicines. Once revealed the subsequent opprobrium, of course, resulted in the deal being cancelled. Continue reading

Posted in Health | 2 Comments

JOHN MENADUE. Julie Bishop – Foreign Minister or Senior Consular Officer

In this blog and elsewhere, Geoff Raby, a former Australian Ambassador to China, has pointed out that Australia’s relationship with China is unlikely to improve until Julie Bishop is sacked as Foreign Minister.  The departure of Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister is necessary, but it is unlikely that Malcolm Turnbull will act.  If he did so, it would imperil his own tenuous hold on Liberal Party leadership.  

Almost two years ago on 14 June 2016, I wrote about Julie Bishop’s continual and serious failings as Foreign Minister. Those failings have increased since then particularly with the management of our relations with China and more and more major cuts in ODA

That article of two years ago is reproduced below Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Politics | 3 Comments

JOHN MENADUE. Are pharmacists professionals or shop keepers?

Pharmacists are the most under-utilised health professionals in the country. The Australian Pharmacy Guild is happy to keep  it that way.   Continue reading

Posted in Health, Politics | 3 Comments

STEPHEN DUCKETT. Turnbull government backs pharmacies over consumers, yet again.

The government has totally squibbed the latest pharmacy regulation review, and consumers will be the losers.

Every five to 10 years in Australia, the government establishes a review of the regulations governing pharmacies. Those reviews invariably come to the same conclusion: community pharmacy is over-regulated, and a reduction in regulation would benefit consumers. Just as invariably, the government response is to do nothing. Continue reading

Posted in Infrastructure, Politics | Leave a comment

TIM COSTELLO. The Budget and aid.

The Coalition Government’s fifth budget last week was carefully calibrated to offer just enough to a discontented electorate to restart the political contest ahead of the poll expected early next year.  Yet again Australia’s battered aid program took a hit, this time in the form of a multi-year cut, combined with an extended freeze on indexation to inflation – a cut by attrition.  This is the same technique being applied to the ABC.  But while attacking the national broadcaster is long-running pet project for the Government’s culture warriors and their commercial media cheer squad, the assault on aid is more puzzling, as it is surely self-defeating.  Continue reading

Posted in Economy, International Affairs, Politics | 1 Comment

JERRY ROBERTS. Share the Blame.

It is not just the bankers who have lost status under the spotlight of our Royal Commission. Australia’s governing classes in their entirety are diminished. Our politicians on both sides of the House, our regulatory bureaucracies, the media, our Professors of Economics and Business Administration, our “independent” think tanks and their incessant propaganda of deregulation and privatisation … It is time for all of them to go back to school. Continue reading

Posted in Economy | 3 Comments

HENRY REYNOLDS. The Fighting Retreat of the Anglo-Australians.

Australian budgets rarely make news in Britain. But the Sunday Times was moved to feature the Government’s decision to commit just under $50 million to mark the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival at Botany Bay in 1770. Two points were made. A new $26 million memorial was a token of Turnbull’s defiance of this year’s protests about Australia Day and the graffiti daubed on the Cook statue in a Sydney park. Of more substance was the observation that the fulsome commemoration of Cook’s voyage would re-affirm Britain’s importance to Australia.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

ROBIN DERRICOURT. Inside the belly of the monster (and a Cold War mind).

A 1960s British student leftist did not expect to find himself on a tour inside the Pentagon, or briefed by a US Army Colonel on his role there, tracking US radicals, with a distorted Cold War model of who they were – but, well, it happened. Continue reading

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

GREG HAMILTON. No stomach or mind for democracy.

Australians have a flaw in their character that shows up in their acceptance of a defective political system no decent reform can come close to changing. When their democratic system is attacked by minority anti-democratic forces, they’ll back the attackers, not their system. And, having done so, they choose to believe their system is still democratic. There’s no helping a fickle electorate.  Continue reading

Posted in Politics | 4 Comments

LUKE FRASER. Rail manufacturing reform and the political shot clock.

One of the things that makes basketball so dynamic is the ‘shot clock’:  once a team takes possession, they have 24 seconds to make a realistic shot – otherwise they turn the ball over to the opponents.  This speeds up the game and discourages defensive play.

In politics there is also a shot clock; a government which hasn’t done much risks being thrown out at the ballot box.  Even so, few governments seem to appreciate how little time they have to effect reform.  In the two decades since the governments which many would argue understood best their brevity of tenure – the Hawke-Keating administrations – another problem has emerged: an advisory deficit in the senior public service, which as many contributors to Pearls have noted, has now grown so deep that new governments can be lulled into thinking that standard bureaucratic processes will get their agenda delivered.  Continue reading

Posted in Infrastructure | Leave a comment

MUNGO MACCALLUM. Progress taxation or a flat tax

Scott Morrison’s budget has been greeted as underwhelming, which is probably the way he likes it.  The goodies are unnecessarily complex  — the tax cuts aren’t really tax cuts, they are built in to your 2018-19 return as an offset, which means  they will appear in your kick only if and when you are entitled to a net refund. No big sugar hit there. There are no real losers, apart from  black marketeers, migrants, the unemployed,  climate scientists, recipients of foreign aid, and the ABC, along with a basket of other deplorables who do not normally vote for the coalition, but, as Peter Dutton might say, they are all dead to him.

However, hidden in the low key first bid for election is an almost revolutionary and definitely reactionary overview, which deserves rather more consideration. The centrepiece of the Enterprise Tax Plan, so-called, is to be the abolition of the progressive system of income tax which has endured in Australia for more than a century and its replacement with what is in effect a flat tax plan.  Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Politics | Leave a comment

JOCELYN CHEY. Caught in the middle: Chinese Australians feel unwanted

International disputes between contending powers frequently result in persecution of local ethnic minorities.  Look at how local German and Japanese communities were treated during the two World Wars, for instance, or how people of Middle Eastern background have been profiled since the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS.  As suspicions of China predominate in Canberra, and stand-offs occur, for instance in the South China Sea, the loyalties of Chinese Australians have been called into question.  This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first Chinese immigrant to settle in Australia.  The Chinese community will celebrate that event, but the contributions of the growing Chinese community to the nation and to our developing relationships with Asia are under-appreciated. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, Refugees, Immigration | 5 Comments

GEOFF RABY. China relations can only be unfrozen with Julie Bishop’s sacking

Once again Australian foreign policy seems to be missing in action. As events unfold at remarkable speed in our area of most strategic interest – north-east Asia – Australia finds itself unable to engage with the key participant at the centre of those events: namely China.   Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Politics | 3 Comments

QUENTIN DEMPSTER. Now only 4 cents a day: ABC Board planning public campaign

A meeting of the ABC board in Sydney on Thursday is expected to plan a roadshow campaign to take its case for triennial funding to the public.  Continue reading

Posted in Media, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

ERIC HODGENS. Reading the Christian Story Properly.

Christianity is now 2,000 years old with a pre-history of a further 1,000 years Its stories are amongst its most prized possessions. Christians love their stories. Stories take pride of place in its liturgies. But for some they are a credibility stumbling block. How can the story be told and heard so that it engenders faith as it was originally intended to do? Continue reading

Posted in Religion and Faith | 4 Comments

Classes & politics.

The return of the concept of ‘class’ to mainstream public debate is an unanticipated feature of the second decade of the new century. Whether defined by people’s relationship to production or distribution, or as a hybrid of economic and cultural identities, a consciousness of class is crystallising once again within democratic countries, and notably in the United States. Some reasons are obvious. Continue reading

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

MANDY FREUND, BEN HENLEY, KATHRYN ALLEN, PATRICK BAKER. Recent Australian droughts may be the worst in 800 years.

Australia is a continent defined by extremes, and recent decades have seen some extraordinary climate events. But droughts, floods, heatwaves, and fires have battered Australia for millennia. Are recent extreme events really worse than those in the past?

In a recent paper, we reconstructed 800 years of seasonal rainfall patterns across the Australian continent. Our new records show that parts of Northern Australia are wetter than ever before, and that major droughts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries in southern Australia are likely without precedent over the past 400 years. Continue reading

Posted in Environment and climate | Leave a comment

MICHAEL LESTER. Political Culture and the Limits of the APS Independent Inquiry.

There is an old saw that cautions politicians never to establish an enquiry unless they know the outcome beforehand. The Prime Minister appears to have learnt that lesson from the ‘can of worms’ exposed in his Royal Commission on Banking.

Turnbull has announced an ‘independent inquiry’ into the future of the Australian Public Service (APS). An independent inquiry is not a Royal Commission and its terms of reference and membership are presumably designed to keep it focused on his own political agenda.  Continue reading

Posted in Infrastructure, Politics | 1 Comment

GLEN SEARLE, CRYSTAL LEGACY. A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure Australia’s latest infrastructure priority list has been criticised for being “too Sydney-centric” and for giving Melbourne’s East West Link, cancelled in 2014, “high priority” status. The cancelled Roe 8project in Perth was removed from the list.

So how does a project get onto Infrastructure Australia’s list? This requires submission of a full business case, which then needs to be “positively assessed” to be given priority status. Continue reading

Posted in Infrastructure | 1 Comment

CAVAN HOGUE. Malaysia’s first new government in six decades revels in a shocking victor.

The surprising Malaysian election results show yet again that we shouldn’t put faith in polls and pundits. Despite serious gerrymandering and other bits of nastiness the Barisan Nasional lost the election. The return of Dr Mahathir raises questions about the future. He has promised to hand over to Anwar Ibrahim but hasn’t said when. Najib looks like he is in trouble and may be charged with corrupt practices. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs | 1 Comment

MUNGO MacCALLUM. Nicknames

Treasurer Scott Morrison got very excited last week, bouncing and bubbling all over the place.  And it wasn’t just because of his pretty ordinary budget: building a stronger economy may be a worthy slogan, but it is hardly inspiring. What was really turning him on was that he (or someone talking to him) had invented a new nickname for Bill Shorten: Unbelieva-Bill.   Continue reading

Posted in Politics | 6 Comments

MICHAEL KEATING. 2018 Budget comment; Part 3: The Turnbull Government’s Priorities as revealed in the Budget

In this final Part 3 of my comments on the 2018 Budget I discuss what this Budget reveals about the Government’s values and priorities, and its performance compared to those targets. Continue reading

Posted in Economy | Leave a comment

RICHARD BUTLER. US and the Iran Agreement: True Lies and Chaos.

In explaining his decision on the US leaving the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), President Trump told a number of true lies. His National Security Advisor, John Bolton, then told the truth: it was to conform with Israel’s wishes. Israel and Iran commenced hostilities in Syria, immediately.  Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Politics | 2 Comments

LINDA SIMON. TAFE upfront in Shorten’s Budget speech in reply.

Whilst the Government’s 2018 Federal Budget failed to recognise the importance of TAFE and skills development to Australia’s economy, TAFE and funding were upfront in the Labor Opposition’s speech in reply. Labor has put TAFE back as the centrepiece of national skills training, promising to scrap upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE students as part of its platform. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Politics | 1 Comment

JOHN MENADUE. How and why corporate regulators have failed us.

The failure of corporate regulation and regulators is in plain sight for all to see. And it is not just in banking. Political ideology and corporate conceit has enabled the powerful to tilt the ‘market’ in their favour at the expense of the less privileged. The result is growing inequality and insecurity.

The Liberal Party branch offices,the BCA,News Corp and the Australian Financial Review also failed to uncover corporate failure and malfeasance on a grand scale.Was this deliberate or were they just asleep?

It is unlikely  that the regulars were wilful .. It is more likely that they just wanted to please the big end of town.   Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Politics | 2 Comments

LAURIE PATTON. Heeding government warnings, auDA strengthens governance – adding new board members

With debate continuing over Australia’s domain names registration arrangements, the company appointed by the federal government to oversee the process has added three highly qualified new directors to its board. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

PETER SMALL. Defending the indefensible.

Yet again Australian farmers and their organisation are caught on the back foot defending the indefensible, -the live sheep trade to the Middle East. Continue reading

Posted in Economy | Leave a comment

MICHAEL KEATING. Budget commentary, Part 2: Sustainable tax cuts for low-income households

Part 1 of this series of Budget comments criticised the credibility of the Government’s projected return to a budget surplus and argued that the proposed tax cuts were therefore not in fact sustainable. In this second part I will argue that nevertheless some tax relief targeted at low-income households should be supported, and other alternative sources of revenue should be found to return the budget to surplus and make those tax cuts sustainable. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Politics | 1 Comment


A sense of complacency, a lack of intellectual curiosity, a failure to think about the bigger picture, a pursuit of consensus lessening constructive criticism.  These are some of the findings in the Australian Prudential Regulatory Agency report into the Commonwealth Bank.  It concludes that “CBA’s continued financial success dulled the senses of the institution”.  Its management understood the financial risks, but not the non-financial risks, facing the company.

While we’re on the subject of finance the budget has attracted a wealth of commentary on Pearls and Irritations. John Falzon, Michael Keating, Giles Parkinson, Ranald MacDonald, Michael Pascoe, Ross Gittins, Ian McAuley and Mungo MacCallum have all contributed. Such is our obsession with fiscal figures that the 1000 pages of budget documentation are almost all about money. But what is money? On the ABC’s Minefield there is a rich discussion about money – what it is, what it isn’t, how it’s socially useful, and the danger of believing that money has value in itself.

Something as distant from the budget as possible –  Bach in Japan, Bach in Hermannsburg. On the ABC’s Spirit of Things Noel Debien is engaged in conversation with Masaaki Suziki, director of the Bach Collegium of Japan, and Morris and Barbara Stewart who have taken the Aboriginal women’s choir to Germany. Hear about Christianity in Japan, the Hermannsburger Missions Gesellschaft, and the adaptation of German liturgical music in different cultures. It ends with a promo for the film The Song Keepers.

Cambodian Government forces sale of last independent newspaper – Human Rights Watch

All eyes on India’s key Karnataka election – ucanews

Saturday Extra:

Trump’s only possible Iran Strategy is a fantasy – Washington Post

It’s a neoliberal budget when we no longer believe in neoliberalism.

Posted in Media, Politics | Leave a comment